Wayne Bergthor Arnason

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The Book Of Life
Alphabetical Story Index
Taken from the Icelandic Appeal website, circa 2000.
Arnason, Wayne Bergthor

By Wayne Bergthor Arnason

I was born on June 2, 1950 at Grace Hospital in Winnipeg in the wake of that year’s Red River Flood. I am the oldest son of John Julius Arnason and Lilia Arnason (nee Johnson). My mother’s entry in the Book of Life has details on the previous four generations of our family dating back to Iceland and the story of my parents’ considerable leadership within the Icelandic Canadian community. One line of my mother’s family can be traced back to Ingolfur Arnarson, the original settler of Iceland. In light of my career as a minister, I was also pleased to discover one Icelandic ancestor who was a clergyman and who served as Bishop of Northern Iceland at Hólar in the mid-eighteenth century.

My maternal grandfather’s parents are a significant part of my life story, for they provided the religious context that shaped my career. Einar Jónsson (Johnson) was born in 1866 at Skeið in Eyjafjörður and came to Canada in 1883, settling on Hecla Island. There he met and married Oddfríður Þuríður Þórðardóttir (Thordarson). Oddfríður was born at Ánabrekka in Borgarhreppur in Mýrasýsla in 1870. She had come to Hecla Island in 1877 with her mother, Bergþóra Bergþórsdóttir, following the death of her father Þórður Guðmundsson when she was four. I am proud to carry the name “Bergthor” which has been passed on through these five most recent generations of my mother’s family.

Einar and Oddfríður were married on October 6, 1893. The church they attended was served by the Rev. Magnús Skaptason, whose universalist theological views had led to a split among the Icelandic congregations in the Interlake.


In 1891, the Mikley congregation on Hecla Island, along with four others, withdrew from the Lutheran Synod. Because of Oddfríður’s later Unitarian Church leadership in Lundar, I presume that Rev. Skaptason’s preaching and ministry significantly influenced my great grandparents. They may have been in the congregation when he preached his 1891 “break-away” sermon that resulted in the Lutheran Synod questioning Skaptason’s theological fitness for ministry.

Apparently, my paternal great grandfather, Jóhann P. Arnason of Gimli, was also in sympathy with Skaptason’s views, for his name appears among those endorsing letters of support for Skaptason published in 1893 in Heimskringla. Jóhann’s sons, Guðjón and Vilhjalmur, continued to endorse Unitarian religious views even though Vilhjalmur’s wife Guðrún, my paternal grandmother, called the shots on church affiliation and raised my father as a Lutheran.

In any event, Einar and Oddfríður Johnson eventually left Hecla Island in 1900 and settled at Lundar where Oddfríður was involved in the founding of the Mary Hill Unitarian Church (later absorbed by the Lundar church.) Their second son, my grandfather, Bergthor Emil Johnson, was active in Unitarian Church affairs in Winnipeg during his life and chaired the 50th Anniversary celebration of the Winnipeg church’s founding in 1941.